Shrewsbury Cakes (17th century)
I have occasionally made a delicious Elizabethan style biscuit, known as Shrewsbury Cakes, and the most recent reason for this recipe is an interview by Paul Shuttleworth of BBC Radio Shropshire.
In Elizabethan times, ‘Banqueting’ was somewhat removed from the modern concept of a ‘Banquet’. Delete the stacking chairs, balloons and round tables, and insert sugar, opulence, sugar and more sugar.
…but this! Ivan Day’s recreation of a Shakespearean
Banquet at the Minneapolis Institute of Art.
As part of these banquets ‘fine cakes’ were served alongside hippocras, sweetmeats and other sweet delicacies. One of these ‘fine cake’ recipes is now known as Shrewsbury or Shropshire Cake, and they were already associated with the town of Shrewsbury by 1596. In that year there was a shortage of grain, and so a ban on the making of ‘fine cakes’ was imposed in Shrewsbury.
In 1602, Lord Herbert of Cherbury wrote to his guardian, Sir George More with a pack of ‘bread’ or ‘cake’ particular to Shrewsbury:
“Lest you think this country ruder than it is, I have sent you some bread, which I am sure will be dainty, howsoever it be not pleasinge; it is a kind of cake which our country people use and made in no place in England but in Shrewsbury; if you vouchsafe to taste them, you will enworthy the country and sender. Measure not my love in substance of it, which is brittle, but the form of it, which is circular”.
The description of those cakes being both ‘brittle’ and ‘circular’, suggests that they are similar to the round shortbreads of later recipes.